Short thoughts from a messy notebook: One

The new girl in the office said she didn’t eat carbs.

But I saw her eating chocolate and stealing staplers. It made me wonder about her moral compass. But then, who knows which way that thing is meant to point?

When I have two choices, north or south, I always end up going the wrong way. Heading In The Wrong Direction. 

This must be south, I think, but it never is.

You’d think I’d get it by now …

Clet Abraham's  magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Clet Abraham’s magic with the one way sign. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

That time I met Simon Armitage

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Robert Frost

I needed to say something but I thought I would cry and if I cried I’d need to explain and that would be hard so I didn’t really say anything. In the end.

But I needed him to know the profound effect his ordinary poems had had on me. Like hearing someone with a similar voice say –

this is the day

this thing that you do

this language that you use

this voice that you have

it is okay

I would hear the the words and my voice and I  longed to sound different.

I wanted to show him that effect he had had, the difference he had made, with his ordinary poems on an ordinary person.

All I could manage was to ask for his signature and then wonder why I said signature not autograph and then why I bothered asking such a question at all considering there he sat and there I stood at the book signing table.

Behind him they sold his books.  Collections of his poetry. I had brought my own. Like a cheapskate at a cheap restaurant holding on to the cheap BYO wine. Free corkage. Bargain.

I felt a wave of guilt for my well loved copies. 

One I had bought on special at a closing down sale.

One was two quid at the Oxfam store in Notting Hill.

I wanted to tell him where I had stumbled on his poems. I wanted him to notice my copies stubbornly ignoring the gleaming newly designed slick covers of his back catalogue. Look at me. A true fan. With the real copies. Battered and read despite the uninspiring cover art. It’s the inside that counts. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or price tag.

But I didn’t say that. In the end.

I just politely asked for a signature.

Polite is boring. His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Before I lined up I did the obligatory browse through the obligatory pop up book store that accompanies such events. Couples in expensive coats who are meant to be seen at such events pondered which book to buy. A woman sighed wearily. Looking was difficult – she didn’t realise there were so many, didn’t know which one to buy. She could have bought them all. I could tell by her umbrella.

Into her sighs I suggested my favourite. This is my favourite, I said. Politely. Of course. She had that umbrella. 

She smiled a non-smile and flicked through my choice. Quickly. Too quickly. Then she put it back.

No, she winced, these are short stories.

No, I said, they are poems.

And I left her to figure it out.

At the book signing table I thought I should tell him that story. But I didn’t. In the end. I asked for his signature and tried to find that thing to say, to make that connection, to have that moment that would make the change –

this is the day.

Suddenly, without warning, the word Inspiration fell out of mouth. A decayed tooth sitting there on the page he was about to sign. Or autograph. Or both. I wanted to pick it up and put it back. But there it was in all its clichéd glory … Inspiration … 

I tripped over an apology but on my way he offered a landing; you write poems? he asked with his voices and his eyes. 

I try, I told him.

We’re all just apprentices, he said.

And I felt like that was okay. In the end.


Someone and Clump: A Love Story

They had this story. It went like this: We never fight. Except this one time. This one and only time about nothing in particular. I threw my copy of Harry Potter on the floor, she would say, I was so angry. And then we both stopped arguing and just laughed because, well, my face must have, I mean, I loved that book and I … she would trail off a little there. It was very funny – not a real fight at all, he would add. We just don’t fight, they would say together, not really.

It wan’t true. Of course. It was their story and it wasn’t true but they believed it. So did everyone else. Because that’s what they were told.

She caught herself thinking about that story that was once their story- thinking about it and believing it again. It would trip her up when she least expected it and she would look around, embarrassed, hoping nobody had noticed.

They had fought. A lot. He had cheated. A lot.  She had cried. A lot.

They had fought some more.

The real story goes like this: He took her trust and shoved in the back pocket of his jeans. Like a hastily scribbled mobile number on the back of a receipt. Like a dirty tissue. He forgot to remove it when he did the laundry and it turned into a shrivelled clump that fell apart the moment anyone tried to open it up, smooth it out, read whatever secrets were written there.

He got new jeans.

The clump got left behind.

As it should. After all, it’s just a clump …  So she believed …

Until someone saw something in the clump and tried to ease it open, to gently smooth it out, to discover the secrets that were written there.

It took time to get that clump unclumped. He gave her time. And so much more.

She (who was a clump) and he (who is still someone) fight. They argue and disagree and say mean things they don’t mean. We fight, they could say if anyone asked them, really. They don’t try to believe otherwise. They keep Harry Potter on the bookshelf along with the other made-up stories. They fall asleep holding hands.

Now she has a better story. Their story. A true story.

Their story goes like this: Love.


love in concrete

Climb: A Play in Fifty Words

fish creek5

–  Just sit up there.

–  Here?

–  Nah, go up, like, another branch … yeah, and another one … another –

–  It’s high

–  Yeah.

–  I could – I could fall.

–  Yeah.

–  It’d hurt.


– You should look scared.

–  I’m not.

–  You need to look it but.

–  OK. Like this?

–  That’s good.

–  Now what?

– Dunno. 

They wait.

Weekly Writing Challenge - Fifty

Juste en attendant (nouvelle)

I have always had a slight obsession with France; for as long as I can remember it has always been “My Favourite Country” and when I was about 11 years old I constantly wore a beret because I desperately wanted to be French and I had an impressive collection of Eiffel Towers and did countless school projects on the place and would sometimes speak in this pretty terrible French accent and , well, you get the idea … So, when modalalien offered to translate my short story Temporary into French I was, clearly, very excited. Here it is, the French version of Temporary (with much better sounding title of Juste en attendant) as translated by Damien Allo (thank you so very much for this Damien):

Juste en attendant


Par Katy Warner

Traduit de l’anglais (Australie) par Damien E. Allo

« Je te paierai pas. Tu sers à rien. Rentre chez toi », dit Charlie en aboyant, sa chemise blanche arborant déjà fièrement de vilaines tâches de sueur.

« Je préfère rester là.

— Je te paye pas pour rester là. Comme je l’ai dit, t’es un foutu bon à rien. »

Sam voulu lui répondre mais ses paroles restèrent bloquées quelque part entre ses poumons et son larynx. Elles restèrent là, coincées dans sa poitrine tant et si bien que des larmes lui vinrent aux yeux. Avant qu’il n’ait pu s’en empêcher, l’une d’elles s’èchappa et roula triomphalement sur sa joue.

« Bon sang, mais-Rentre chez toi.» Comme il lui tendait un mouchoir, les vociférations de Charlie se firent un peu moins virulantes.

Sam dètestait son boulot. Il avait eu dans l’idèe de dèmissionner au moment même où il avait commencè. Mais elle lui avait dit que c’ètait juste en attendant, et elle le pensait vraiment. A l’époque. Bien súr qu’elle le pensait vraiment.

Les néons vacillèrent en grésillant. Il observa un papillon occupè à s’abrutir contre la protection en plastique du luminaire.

« Regardez-moi ce petit bonhomme », dit-il comme pour lui-même. Il fallait toujours qu’il fasse ça, se parler comme à lui-même. Ça la rendait folle, elle le lui avait dit en lui lançant un de ces regards qui voulait dire tu me mets mal à l’aise, on en reparlera une fois à la maison, et qu’il ne connaissait que trop bien.

Charlie, quant-à lui, se contenta de le regarder d’un air absent.

« Bon sang, mais rentre-» mais avant que Charlie ait terminé sa phrase -assez prévisible-, le ding-dong du carillon retentit au niveau des portes coulissantes.

Charlie se redressa sur sa chaise comme un petit animal sauvage.

Le carillon pouvait parfois être trompeur. Il avait tendance à être capricieux et cruel : il ravivait l’espoir du vendeur aux abois qui se voyait persuadè que c’ètait là la vente qu’il attendait, pour finalement se rendre compte que ce n’ètait que l’effet du vent. Sam se plaisait à imaginer que ce n’ètait pas le vent mais des fantômes qui ne s’ètaient pas encore rendu compte de leur mort et qui continuaient leur train-train habituel et se rendaient dans les magasins de meubles en se demandant pourquoi les vendeurs les ignoraient… Il s’en ètait confiè à Charlie qui l’avait regardè bizarrement puis lui avait dit qu’il fallait passer l’aspirateur. Sam passait son temps avec l’aspirateur : il avait davantage l’impression d’être employè au nettoyage qu’à la vente.

Le carillon continuait à faire ding-dong alors qu’un jeune couple un peu mal à l’aise se tenait à l’entrèe du magasin. Charlie rèajusta sa cravate, fourra un bonbon à la menthe dans sa bouche et saisit son bloc-notes. « Il n’y a rien d’inscrit dessus, mais ça vous donne l’air

important. Les clients sont sensibles à ce genre de choses. Tout ça fait partie de ma technique », lui avait confié Charlie le premier jour.

Charlie se leva et rentra sa chemise dans son pantalon : son ventre d’amateur de biére s’affirmait de plus en plus et s’accommodait mal des exigences d’une tenue de commercial. Son ventre imposant repoussait constamment sa chemise en dehors de son pantalon, forçait la boucle de sa ceinture et faisait sauter ses boutons. Il tenait pour responsables les fabricants de vêtements, le pressing ou sa femme, mais jamais la bière, la friture ou les généreuses quantités de beignets à la crème ou à la confiture qui accompagnaient sa pause café matinale. Sam gonflait parfois son ventre à la maison en la prévenant que, lui aussi, pourrait ressembler à ça un jour. Elle riait alors de cette façon bien à elle et lui disait qu’elle l’aimerait même s’il devenait trés gros et ajoutait que c’ètait un boulot juste en attendant, de toute façon, et qu’il ne ferait pas ça toute sa vie. Il ne lui avait rien dit, mais il avait remarqué que ses pantalons devenaient de plus en plus justes et que son visage avait pris des rondeurs. Chaque nuit, une fois qu’il pensait qu’elle s’ètait endormie, il faisait cinquante abdos sans faire de bruit.

Charlie s’empara de sa veste de costume sur le dossier de sa chaise et l’enfila en prenant son temps. Sam avait plaisir à observer les préparatifs de Charlie avant une vente. « Il faut pas donner l’impression d’être aux abois », voilà une autre perle de sagesse dont Charlie avait gentiment fait profiter Sam lors de son premier jour. Malheureusement, les clients devenaient une espèce de plus en plus rare au Merveilleux Magasin de Meubles de Charlie et la devise

“faut pas avoir l’air aux abois” revenait souvent à perdre des clients avant même d’avoir pu accrocher leur regard. Sam tenait les néons pour responsables, Charlie, lui, en voulait à la situation économique, à la concurrence, à lui-même.

On entendait toujours le ding-dong du carillon, tout heureux d’avoir l’occasion d’annoncer de vrais clients plutôt que ces fichus fantômes qui s’entêtaient à frèquenter les magasins de meubles au mépris de leur mort. Le jeune couple passa le magasin en revue tout en restant tranquillement sur le tapis d’accueil (Charlie disait que les clients sont réceptifs à ce genre de choses, cela rendait le magasin accueillant tout simplement parce que c’ètait ce qui ètait ècrit sur le tapis) et ils se parlèrent ensuite à voix basse. On aurait dit qu’ils prèparaient leur évasion.

« Il faut que je leur mette le grappin dessus. Ne… T’as qu’à… »

Il agitait les bras en vain tout en se prècipitant vers le couple, l’haleine rafraichie, le bloc-notes à la main et la chemise bien rentrée.

Sam savait ce que voulait dire l’agitation des bras : Ne t’approche pas des clients. Il avait pu voir ces bras s’agiter en de nombreuses occasions, particulièrement lors de son premier mois de présence durant lequel il avait été forcé de porter le badge humiliant “en formation” et de rire à gorge dèployèe à chaque fois qu’un client s’essayait à un mot d’esprit au sujet de son “badge d’identification”.

« Ca vient d’où ? », demandaient-ils avec un petit sourire narquois.

Je vous demande pardon ? répondait-il en faisant semblant de ne pas comprendre.

Votre nom, là. Ils montraient alors le badge en voulant souligner la drôlerie de leur blague. En formation. »

Ils prenaient alors toujours un accent terriblement moqueur – français, allemand ou autre – Monsieur Information, Herr Enformazion. Alors, il riait et ils se félicitaient de leur ingéniosité en continuant à “juste jeter un œil” avant de partir en lançant “à bientôt M. Formation”, mais sans canapé, ni table basse ou autre coussins à cinq dollars -ce qui était purement du vol¬mais, non merci, pas aujourd’hui… Il dètestait les clients. Il lui avait bien dit qu’il n’ètait pas fait pour le contact avec la clientéle et elle ètait partie de son rire en lui disant que c’ètait juste en attendant.

Il regardait Charlie essayer de convaincre le couple de quitter le tapis d’accueil et de faire un petit tour du magasin. Charlie leur servirait de guide. Il serait leur ami. Leur assistant. « Ne te présente jamais comme assistant des ventes » lui avait-il dit. « Ca repousse les gens ».

Le jeune couple avait l’air aussi paumé que le papillon qui continuait de se cogner contre le plafonnier. Sam se demanda si ils avaient eux aussi ètè attirès à l’intèrieur par les nèons.

Il se rappela avoir été dans des magasins pareils à celui-ci. Il se souvint combien il avait été déconcerté en se demandant pourquoi diable ils avaient besoin d’un nouveau canapè alors que celui qu’il avait rècupèrè auprés de la dèchetterie convenait parfaitement et donnait un bon exemple de réduction de notre empreinte carbone, de recyclage et d’action positive pour l’environnement car, aprés tout, c’ètait elle la soi-disant écolo, et comment pouvait-elle se plier au gâchis de l’occident, à cette aviditè capitaliste… Il soupira. Pourquoi ne pouvait-il se rappeler que des disputes ?

Sam regarda le couple alors qu’ils s’intèressaient au matelas 140. Ils avaient l’air de poupées dèmesurèes, allongès l’un à côtè de l’autre, chaussures aux pieds, les bras le long du corps, immobiles et sans porter d’attention à Charlie qui soulignait les vertus de la mousse, des ressorts, des coutures. Sam regarda la femme prendre la main de son compagnon. Sam regarda l’homme porter la main à ses lévres et l’embrasser. Sam la regarda prendre sa tête dans ses mains. Sam regarda Charlie, dans son embarras et par politesse, se tourner vers son bloc-notes et se racler la gorge. Sam observa cette scène de tendresse se poursuivre tandis que le papillon se cognait contre les nèons que l’on entendait grésiller au plafond. Sam regarda la femme dire à l’homme qu’on les regardait. Sam regarda la femme le montrer du doigt.

« Tu regardes quoi, là ? », lui hurla le jeune homme sur le matelas.

Sam se rappela comme elle était allongé de la sorte ; elle avait eu l’air d’une petite poupèe en porcelaine sur le matelas, les bras le long du corps, immobile et sans porter attention à quoi que ce soit. Il ne s’ètait pas attendu à ce que ça ait l’air, à ce qu’elle est l’air si irréelle. Allongès sur le dos, l’un à côtè de l’autre, les bras le long de son corps, il avait pris une de ses mains dèlicates dans la sienne et l’avait embrassèe, il avait pris sa tête dans ses mains, il avait prononcé son nom, il lui avait caressè les cheveux, il avait appelè l’infirmiére, il avait dit au-revoir. Il l’avait senti venir, même si elle avait insistè, à chaque ètape, que c’ètait juste en attendant : la chute des cheveux, les injections, les vomissements, les salles d’attente…

« Ho ! Abruti ! C’est quoi ton probléme ?»

Sam ne savait pas où aller, alors il était venu au boulot ; son boulot juste en attendant.

Le jeune homme se précipita sur Sam. La jeune femme ricana. Charlie agita les bras en vain. Sam continua à regarder en clignant des yeux et en respirant, et en écoutant le bruit sourd de ce pauvre papillon.

« Il ne lâche pas le morceau. Quel entêtement, petit bonhomme ! », dit-il, comme pour lui¬même.

Malheureusement, il y avait quelqu’un qui n’ètait pas lui-même et qui crut que Sam s’adressait à lui.

L’homme s’approcha de Sam, l’haleine chargée de relents de fast food et de boissons ènergisantes sucrèes. Sam regarda les lévres de l’homme qui, un instant auparavant, avaient embrassé la main de la jeune femme se retrousser soudainement et se déformer en un torrent d’insultes. La jeune femme apparu derrière l’èpaule de son compagnon et le tira en arriére. Sam regarda la main de la femme qui, un instant auparavant, tenait encore la tête du jeune homme se changer soudainement en doigt d’honneur.

Le ding-dong du carillon se fit entendre : ils étaient partis.

Charlie se trouvait sur le tapis d’accueil, agitant les bras en vain, en rythme avec le ding-dong.

« Bon sang, Sam, Bon… » Charlie remit le bloc-notes dans le tiroir, raccrocha sa veste de costume sur le dossier de sa chaise, sortit sa chemise de son pantalon et expira pour ce qui parut une éternité.

« Je sais, Je sais. Je vais… » Il pensa à retourner à la maison. Habituellement, lorsqu’il arrivait au parking du Merveilleux Magasin de Meubles de Charlie, tout ce à quoi il pensait, c’ètait de faire demi-tour et de rentrer à la maison.

Au-dessus de lui, le papillon s’èpuisait à virevolter autour de la lumiére.

Le boulot de Sam consistait aussi souvent à rèpandre de l’insecticide sur les papillons ou à leur porter un coup fatal à l’aide d’un journal roulè sur lui-même. Mais pas aujourd’hui. Charlie regarda Sam se mettre debout sur le bureau, tendre la main vers la lumière et recueillir le paillon dans ses mains avec soin. Il regarda Sam traverser le magasin en tenant le papillon captif entre ses mains. Il entendit le ding-dong du carillon au moment où Sam relâcha le papillon sur le parking.

Sam, silhouette esseulèe sur un tapis d’accueil, regarda le papillon s’envoler jusqu’à ce qu’il le perde de vue.

« Viens manger un beignet », lui lança Charlie.

Sam s’essuya les pieds sur le tapis et retourna à son boulot, juste en attendant.

Ruby (a short story)

Ruby didn’t want to be there. She had been promised a visit to the park. This place was the complete opposite of the park (she knew all about opposites and this was most definitely an opposite). It was dark and smelt weird and her new sneakers stuck to the dirty carpet. She was not happy and showed her dad this by staring at her sneakers. He didn’t seem to notice.

She loved her new sneakers. They were purple and lit up with sparkles of colour every time she took a step. She liked to imagine she was walking on stars. But her sneakers didn’t light up here – they just stuck stubbornly to the thin carpet. It made her sad. Her new sneakers were for running and sliding and jumping and most definitely not for sticking to dirty carpet.

He had been promising to take her to the park for ages now but there was always an excuse; he was busy or tired or it was raining or he had one of those headaches he always seemed to have. But today he didn’t have a headache and it wasn’t raining and he had said put on your new sneakers we’re going to the park. So she did. She was wearing her new sneakers but this was not the park.

He hadn’t kept his side of the bargain. Ruby knew all about bargains and so far she had done her bit but her dad was letting her down. Again. Like those times Jake would want to make a bargain with their lunches and she would end up swapping a chocolate chip cookie for an apple. Yes, Ruby knew all about unfair bargains.

She sighed.

She wasn’t going to lose out this time.

She pulled on his jacket but he didn’t look at her. She squeezed his hand so tightly it made her screw up her nose but he didn’t look at her. She jumped on his foot, her left sneaker lighting up like a Christmas tree, but he still didn’t look.

She took a deep breath and used a voice louder than any voice she had ever used before; “Let’s go!” She knew it must have been really loud because Mrs Peachy always scolded her for being too loud even when she whispering secrets to Jake in her quiet voice. She was terrible at keeping secrets and she was terrible at being quiet. “I don’t wanna be here,” she said in the loudest voice she had ever used. Ever.

Ruby’s father still didn’t look but the old man sitting behind a table full of empty glasses did. He stared. She pulled her hair over her face and peered at him through the fine curtain. He smiled at her, a toothless smile that made her stomach feel like it was full of angry, mean butterflies. She stuck her tongue out at him, even though she knew it was rude, and got a mouthful of hair. The old man laughed and belched at her as she hid her face in her dad’s jacket. But still he didn’t look.

He was looking at someone else.

Ruby removed herself from the jacket and tried to see what he was seeing. She followed his gaze to the other side of the room, to a table tucked in the corner behind which sat a woman with messy hair and dark eyes. She had her elbows on the table and one foot resting on the chair in front of her. Ruby frowned at the woman’s very bad manners (she knew all about manners and these were most definitely bad ones).

“Who’s that?” Ruby tried to use her quiet voice. It felt like the right time to be quiet.

Ruby looked at the woman at the table again and wondered whether she had put her dad under some spell. Maybe she was a witch. Maybe she had frozen him to the spot with her dark, magical eyes. Maybe she had stolen his voice box.

“Dad …” she was starting to worry that they may never make it to the park. It felt like they had been here for a long time.

“Go say hello.”

Finally, her dad was looking at her. She tried to smile at him but there was something about him, about his voice and his eyes, that didn’t seem quite right. She pulled her hair over her face.

“Don’t do that.” He gently pulled her hair back. “Go say hello.”

“To who?” She hit his hands away, he was always trying to make her hair neat and she hated it.

He pointed to the woman at the table with the bad manners. “We can go to the park after. OK?”

Ruby had never seen her dad look so small but right there, right in front of her, it looked as if he had lost all his air – like the last balloon at a birthday party, sad and unwanted. She was sure that woman was a witch. An air-stealing witch. She didn’t want to say hello to a witch but she didn’t want her dad to look so empty. It made those mean butterflies start doing laps in her stomach again.

She took a deep breath and let her sneakers take her on a sticky star walk across the galaxy to the witch at the table in the corner.

Melinda needed another drink. She got up from the table, steadied herself and took a step towards the bar. Suddenly, right under her feet was a little girl wearing sneakers that flashed like police lights. Melinda winced as the girl said something in a loud, high-pitched voice. She pushed past the little thing to get to the bar.

Ruby turned at looked at her dad and shrugged her shoulders. She told herself she was most definitely OK but somehow all those angry, mean butterflies escaped and burst from her eyes and her nose and her mouth and suddenly she was crying. Ruby never cried. Jake cried more than she did and he was boy and everyone knew boys weren’t supposed to cry so much. Ruby knew all about crying. She hated it but she couldn’t help it.

Melinda tried to ignore the scene in front of her and ordered a double. She gulped it down. It didn’t help. She ordered another.

Ruby watched her father refill with air and rush toward her. As he hugged her she felt butterflies disappear.

“I said hello,” she said. “Can we go to the park now?”

Ruby’s dad took her hand and walked on her stars out into the sunlight and towards the park and didn’t look back – even though Ruby was sure she heard someone call their names in a voice which was trying to be quiet.


Temporary (a short story)

cropped-these-are-the-isolate-009.jpg“I’m not paying you. You’re useless. Go home,” Charlie barked, his white shirt already proudly displaying vicious sweat patches.

“I’d rather be here.”

“I’m not paying you to be here. Like I said, you’re bloody useless.”

Sam wanted to reply but the words got caught somewhere between his lungs and voice box and there they stayed, lodged in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Before he could stop it one escaped and rolled triumphantly down his cheek.

“Jesus Christ – go home,” Charlie’s bark was a little less biting as he handed him a tissue.

Sam hated his job. He had been planning to resign the very moment he started. But she had told him it was only temporary and she had meant it. Then. Of course she had meant it.

The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed. He watched a determined moth knock itself senseless against the plastic light fitting.

“Look at that little guy,” he said to no one in particular. He was always doing that; talking to no one in particular. It used to drive her insane, she had told him as much with that you’re-embarrassing-me-we’ll-discuss-this-when-we-get-home look he knew only too well.

Charlie, on the other hand, simply stared at him blankly.

“Jesus Christ, go –” but before Charlie could complete his somewhat predictable sentence the ding-dong customer alert chimed from the sliding doors.

Charlie sat up like a meerkat.

The ding-dong customer alert could be misleading at times. It had a tendency to be temperamental and cruel – raising the hopes of desperate salesman who felt sure this would be the sale they’d been waiting for only to learn it was just the wind. Sam liked to imagine it wasn’t the wind but ghosts who hadn’t yet realised they were actually dead going about their daily business, shopping for furniture, wondering why the sales assistants were ignoring them … He had mentioned this to Charlie who looked at him strangely and told him there was vacuuming to be done. Sam was always vacuuming – he felt more like a cleaner than a sales assistant.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong and alert as the young couple stood, confused and unsure, in the entrance to the store. Charlie fixed his tie, popped a mint in his mouth and grabbed a clipboard. “Nothing in it but it makes you look important. Customers respond to that sort of thing. It is all part of my technique,” Charlie had told him on his first day.

Charlie stood up and tucked his shirt in; his ever-increasing beer-belly clearly took offence to the constraints of business wear. His sizeable belly constantly pulled his shirt away from his pants, burst belt buckles, popped buttons. He blamed manufacturing, the drycleaner, his wife but never the beer, fried food and copious amounts of cream and jam donuts that filled his morning tea ritual. Sam would push out his belly at home and warn her that he too could look like that one day. She laughed that laugh and told him she would love him no matter how fat he got and added it was only a temporary job anyway, he wouldn’t be there forever. He didn’t tell her but he had noticed his pants were getting tighter and his face a little rounder – he quietly did fifty sit ups every night when he thought she had drifted off to sleep.

Charlie took up his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slowly put it on. Sam quite enjoyed watching Charlie’s pre-sale routine. “You don’t want to appear too eager,” had been another pearl of wisdom Charlie had kindly shared on Sam’s first day. Unfortunately customers were becoming an endangered species at Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium and the mantra you-don’t-want-to-appear-too-eager often meant losing customers before eye contact could be made. Sam blamed the fluorescent lights; Charlie blamed the economy, the competition, himself.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong – happy that it had the opportunity to announce real customers rather than those pesky ghosts who persisted in shopping for furniture despite the fact they were dead. The young couple scanned the store from the comfort of the welcome mat (Charlie said customers respond to that sort of thing, it made the store welcoming because it said as much on the mat) and then whispered quietly to each other. It looked as if they were plotting their getaway.

“I’ve got to grab them. Just – just …” he flapped his arms uselessly as he trotted over to the couple, all minty-fresh, clipboarded and tucked-in.

Sam knew what the flapping arms meant: Stay away from the customers. He’d seen those flapping arms on numerous occasions, predominately in his first month of employment when he was forced to wear the condescending ‘in-training’ badge and laugh uproariously whenever a customer attempted witty repartee about his ‘name badge’.

“Where’s that from?” they’d ask with a smirk.

“Excuse me?” he would feign confusion.

“Your name,” they’d point to the badge to emphasis the hilarity of the joke, “In Training.”

They’d always put on some dreadfully insulting accent – French or German or something – Monsieur Entrainin, Herr Intraining. Then he would laugh and they would beam at their cleverness and continue to “just browse” and leave with a “see ya Mr Training” but no sofa or coffee table or five dollar throw cushion which was an absolute steal but no thanks not today … He hated customers. He had told her he was not cut out for customer service and she just laughed that laughed and told him it was only temporary.

He watched Charlie convince the couple to extract themselves from the welcome mat and take a wander around the store. Charlie would be their guide. Their friend. Their assistant. “Never call yourself a sales assistant,” he had told him, “it puts people off.”

The couple looked as dazed and confused as the moth who continued to knock himself against the light fitting. Sam wondered whether they too had simply been drawn in by the fluorescent lights.

He remembered visits to stores like this. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, wondering why they needed to buy a new sofa at all when the one he had picked up from roadside collection was quite adequate and a perfect example of lowering one’s carbon footprint and recycling and affirmative action for the environment because, after all, she was the so-called environmentalist and how could she buy into that Western wastefulness, that Capitalist greed … He sighed. Why could he only remember the fights?

Sam watched as the couple contemplated the queen-sized mattress. They looked like oversized dolls, lying shoulder to shoulder, shoes on, arms by their sides, stiff and disinterested as Charlie pointed out the miracles of the foam, the springs, the stitching. Sam watched as the woman took her partner’s hand. Sam watched as the man gently brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam watched as she cupped his face. Sam watched as Charlie, in discomfort and politeness, referred to the clipboard and cleared his throat. Sam watched the tender scene unfold whilst the moth thumped against the fluorescent lights that hummed overhead. Sam watched as the woman told the man they were being watched. Sam watched as the woman pointed him out.

“What are you looking at?” the young man shouted from the mattress.

Sam remembered how she lay like that; she had looked like a tiny, porcelain doll upon the mattress, arms by her side, stiff and disinterested. He hadn’t expected it, her, to look so unnatural. On their backs, shoulder to shoulder, arms by her side he had picked up one of her delicate hands and kissed it, he had cupped her face in his hands, he had called her name, he had stroked her hair, he had called the nurse, he had said goodbye. He had known it was coming even though she had insisted, every step of the way, that it was only temporary – the hair-loss and the injections and the vomit and waiting rooms …

“Hey! Retard! What’s your problem?”

Sam didn’t know where else to go so he had come to work; his temporary job.

The young man stormed towards Sam. The young woman sneered. Charlie flapped his arms uselessly. Sam continued to watch and blink and breathe and listen to the dull thump of the hapless moth.

“He’s still going for it. What a determined little guy,” he said to no one in particular.

Unfortunately there was someone in particular who assumed Sam was speaking to him.

The man moved in close to Sam, his warm breath smelling like fast food and sugary energy drinks. Sam watched the man’s lips that had, moments earlier, kissed the young woman’s hand suddenly curl and contort into a barrage of insult. The young woman appeared at her partner’s shoulder and pulled him back.  Sam watched the woman’s hand that, moments earlier, cupped the young man’s face suddenly twist into a finger sign.

The ding-dong customer alert sounded and they were gone.

Charlie stood on the welcome mat, flapping his arms uselessly in time with sound of the ding-dong. “Jesus Christ. Sam. Jesus –” Charlie put the clipboard back in the drawer, returned his suit jacket to the back of his chair, untucked his shirt and exhaled for what seemed an eternity.

“I know, I know. I’ll …” He considered going back to the house. Usually as he pulled into the Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium parking lot all he could think about was turning the car around and heading back home.

The moth fluttered and faltered around the light above him.

Sam’s job usually included spraying the moths with fly spray or inducing a fatal blow with the rolled up newspaper. Not today. Charlie watched as Sam stood on the desk, reached up to the light and gently cupped the moth in his hands. He watched as Sam slowly made his way across the store with the moth cradled in the cage of his hands. He heard the ding-dong customer alert as Sam tenderly released the moth into the parking lot.

Sam stood, a lone figure on a welcome mat, and watched the moth flutter and fly until he could see it no more.

“Come and have a donut,” Charlie called.

Sam wiped his feet on the mat and returned to his temporary job.



Making myself keep up with this blog with the help of The Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dialogue